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Penne alla Boscaiola {Lumberjack Mushroom Penne} & a Giveaway!

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A while back I was contacted by Ginny of Cooking With Chopin to participate in a blog tour for the A Family Farm In Tuscany cookbook (her mother published the book!).  I agreed because 1) I love Italian food, and 2) I love free stuff and I would get a free cookbook if I participated.  Just keepin’ it real, people.  If you like free stuff too, keep reading because you’ll have a chance to win a copy for yourself!

Photo by Dario Fusar, Organic Gardening

This is a beautiful softcover cookbook by Sarah Fioroni that follows the activities on her family’s farm in Tuscany throughout a typical year, such as making prosciutto in January & harvesting saffron in November, and of course there are recipes for each month that include seasonal ingredients. This is more than a cookbook, it is the story of Sarah’s heritage and daily life on Fattoria Poggio Alloro (Laurel Hill Farm), and she includes many simple, delicious recipes that her family makes every day.

Photo by Oriano Stefan

I’m usually drawn to cookbooks that feature colorful photos of the finished dishes, and that was my only  disappointment with this one.  The book is filled with colorful, stunning photos featuring the family, the farm & monthly activities on it, along with a smattering of food photos. However, the more I looked through the cookbook, the less I cared about the meager food photos.  I often read cookbooks like novels, and this one you actually can read like a book, as the stories shared in it flow along with the recipes from month to month.

I’ve been thumbing through this cookbook for several weeks and the longer I have it, the more I love it.  The recipes are simple everyday recipes, which isn’t usually what I think of in connection with Italian food.  I think of long hours in the kitchen and lots of ingredients.  But these recipes aren’t meant to impress you with their length or the time it takes to make them.  They are simple and they are good.  Make that delicious.  Everything I’ve made from the cookbook so far is just incredible.  I honestly didn’t know recipes with so few ingredients could be so good.

Take this Penne alla Boscaiola, for example.  (It isn’t a coincidence that I first chose one of the recipes that included a picture, though I have now ventured forth and tried one without a picture, the Tiramisu Poggio Alloro–do try it, it’s wonderful.)  It is so simple, calling for just a few basic ingredients and only one spice.  I did rewrite the recipe with my small changes, so I wanted to include a photo of the actual recipe so you could see what I’m talking about when I say this book is full of simple, delicious recipes.

Dennis’ reaction to this was, “This is really good.” *chew chew chew* “I mean really, really good.”  *chew chew chew* “I’m almost shocked at how good this is.”  I’m not sure if he meant my food usually isn’t this good, or he was just trying to express how incredibly delicious he found it, but either way, you get the idea of how much he enjoyed it.  This is a man that rarely comments on the taste of anything I make and I have to pull the reviews out of him like teeth.  Not this time.  And I whole-heartedly agree.  This pasta is shockingly delicious.  Shocking because it is just so simple!  How can it possibly be this good?  You’ll have to make it to believe it.  (And make it with the Green Salad from the cookbook, it is another shockingly simple & delicious recipe!)

Penne alla Boscaiola
{Lumberjack Mushroom Penne}

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1/2 of a medium red onion, finely diced
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
16 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced*
16 oz. pork sausage (I used Jimmy Dean Italian)
1 (29 oz.) can tomato purée
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

4-6 quarts water
1 teaspoon salt
12 oz. penne pasta (I used Ronzoni Smart Taste)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Cook the onion with the olive oil in a large pot/Dutch oven over medium heat for about five minutes, until softened. Add the mushrooms and cook until cooked down and browned, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute, then use your hands to break the sausage into smaller chunks and add to the pot. Cook for about ten minutes, or until the sausage is cooked through. Add the tomato purée, warm water, red pepper, and salt. Simmer for 30 minutes over medium-low heat.

In another medium pot, bring water and salt to a rolling boil. When the water is boiling, add the penne pasta and stir. Return to a boil and cook until pasta is al dente, about 7 minutes, using the package instructions as a guide. Remove and drain, then add to the large pan of sauce. Stir together and serve hot, topped with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Serves 6-8

*Veronica’s notes: I didn’t use fresh garlic because I didn’t realize I was going to miss it until I tasted the sauce without it, so I just added a teaspoon of garlic powder. It was wonderful this way, but I included instructions for using fresh garlic since that is more authentic and most likely would taste even better. Also, a full teaspoon of red pepper flakes did not make this spicy at all so do not fear.  Lastly, if you are like me, you will be tempted to cook the sausage separately and drain off the fat before adding it to the sauce. But if you are like me, you will resist in the spirit of authenticity and be rewarded with delicious pasta that is surprisingly grease-free. I think the mushrooms absorb the fat, because there was absolutely no grease to drain after cooking the sausage with the mushrooms. Oh well, more flavor!

Recipe source: Adapted from A Family Farm in Tuscany.

Would you like to win a copy of A Family Farm In Tuscany?  Just leave me a comment telling me your favorite Italian dish (comments without this will not be counted in the drawing).  For an extra entry, “Like” my Facebook page and leave me a separate comment letting me know you did or do.  For a third entry, you can “Like” Sarah’s Facebook page and leave a separate comment telling me you did so. Giveaway is open until Wednesday (10/31/12)  at midnight CST, and I will announce the winner on Thursday.  Winner will have 24 hours to contact me or I will choose another winner.  Good luck!

This giveaway is now closed.  Congrats to the winner, Kelly D!


Zucchini Spaghetti

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**I apologize to subscribers for the weird “password protected” post that came to your inbox or feed early this morning!  It was me just being a spaz, but I’ve got this “top secret” recipe now set to public visibility instead of password protected.  Sorry to disappoint if you thought my zucchini spaghetti recipe must contain codes to reveal a huge conspiracy theory, but I hope you’ll find the delicious recipe is quite enough to get excited about in and of itself.  :) **

Have you been wondering what ever happened to the weight loss contract and the 17 Day Diet?  Join the club–I’m wondering too! :D  We did save a good amount of money with the contract, though we only actually stuck to the agreements made in it for like a week.  And we ended up with a bunch of emergencies (car stuff, etc.) that most of the money went toward.  We did much better with the 17 Day Diet and stuck with it for over a month, but soon after got to the third 17-day cycle, which allows for a wider range of foods, we cheated our way into widening the range to all foods, and in great abundance.  Soooo, I think I lost 15 pounds and gained most of it back.  Story of my adult life.  I pretty much diet half the year so I can eat like a pig the other half.  It kind of works for me.

Anyway, this “spaghetti” was the romantic Valentine’s Day dinner I made while we were on the first cycle of the 17 Day Diet, which allows for no starches except for fruit.  The lean meats allowed are minimal as well (turkey, chicken, and fish) and I was challenged to come up with a 17 Day Diet-friendly recipe that would be really delicious and impressive.  Debbi posted her version of Kalyn’s zucchini spaghetti and I knew I had a winner.  And wow, I was right!  This was the most delicious thing we ate during the entire diet, and I would even say it’s one of the most delicious meals I’ve eaten in my entire life.  The sauce is just spectacular (it would be great on real spaghetti, too) and the zucchini is perfect here.  I always have thought zucchini was a vegetable best suited to Italian seasonings and this recipe further proves it.   I can’t even tell you how much I love this dish!

A funny thing about the “spaghetti” strands.  The only julienne slicer I could find was this one, which also has three other cutting blades.  For some reason, I didn’t look at the owners manual and thought that the crinkle cutter was the julienne blade.  I was so frustrated with the slicer, thinking that it was just a poor product, because every time I “julienned” a zucchini, I had to go back and cut the strands apart because the stupid julienning blade was just cutting crinkle-cut slabs.  DUH!  Seriously, I didn’t figure out my mistake until just this week when I finally opened the owners manual and saw that there was another blade that I had missed.  The one for julienning veggies.  DOY.

If you don’t have a julienne cutter, The Pampered Chef has a julienne peeler for $10.50 that I’d recommend–it won’t take up a lot of space and does a fabulous job of julienning your veggies.  I got one and gave the other cutter to Goodwill because, well, you guys know I don’t even have room for my cake pans in this house, so I’m  not about to give up good space for a bulky cutting tool when I could just use Pampered Chef’s fabulous peeler!  Thanks, Tracy (my Pampered Chef consultant)!

Zucchini Spaghetti

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

3 links low-fat turkey Italian sausage, hot or mild
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 large cloves of garlic, minced + 4 more to season the oil
pinch hot pepper flakes (optional)
1 (14.5 oz.) can roasted diced tomatoes with juice
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 medium sized zucchini (9-10 inches long)
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste (for seasoning zucchini)
freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving, if desired

Heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy frying pan, then add turkey sausage, squeezed out of the links, and use a spatula to break the sausage apart and cook until it’s lightly browned, about 5 minutes. When the sausage is browned, add 3 cloves of minced garlic, and hot pepper flakes, if using. Stir together and let cook with the sausage about a minute, then add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, fennel, basil, and oregano. Turn heat down to low and let the sauce simmer while you prep the zucchini.

Use a julienne cutter to cut the zucchini into long spaghetti-like strands. (Cut off the ends, wash and dry the zucchini, and then cut into julienne strands. You can also do this with a knife if you’re patient.)

Heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil over high heat in a very large frying pan, add 3 whole garlic cloves and sauté until you can start to smell garlic, then remove garlic to another dish (you can discard it, but fried garlic cloves are delicious and you can add them to salad or even eat them straight!) Immediately add the zucchini strands to the hot pan and cook stirring a few times just until the zucchini is heated through, about 2 minutes. Season the cooked zucchini with salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Divide between 2-4 plates, then ladle sauce over the top. Serve hot, with freshly grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

Recipe source: adapted from Kalyn’s Kitchen, as seen on Debbi Does Dinner

Healthy Slow Cooker Meat Sauce

Dennis and I have been eating out a lot now that I work through the dinner hour.  I finally got fed up with the unhealthy food and the weight gain we’re both experiencing, and decided to cook up enough real homemade food on my days off to last us for the week.  This meat sauce was the first thing I threw together, and Dennis was in heaven!

This is an old picture from 2009 but I had to include it. Dennis eats everything with chopsticks-he's obsessed!

I’m not completely back on the healthy bandwagon, but this meal is a good start. The sauce is hearty, flavorful & robust, and very low in fat. I chose to sweeten the sauce mainly with carrots, and you may find this balances the acidity of the tomatoes enough for your taste, but I decided to add some agave nectar to mine to sweeten it a little more. You could also try upping the carrots to 2 cups.

Serve this over whole wheat pasta along with a salad and you’ve got a nutritious, delicious meal!

Healthy Slow Cooker Meat Sauce

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 pound bison, venison, or lean ground beef
2 links mild Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 (14.5 ounce) cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 ½ cups finely shredded carrots (about 4 medium carrots)
2 (8 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 tablespoons agave nectar or sugar
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon garlic salt
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Salt to taste

In a large skillet, cook the meat and onions until the meat is brown and the onions are tender. Add the minced garlic and cook another minute. Do not drain unless you used meat with a higher fat content. If you used the suggested meat, you will have a little broth in the pan with only a tiny amount of fat, which I like to leave for flavor.

Meanwhile, add the undrained tomatoes and carrots to a 4-quart (or larger) slow-cooker and puree using an immersion blender (if you don’t have an immersion blender, do this with your regular blender). Stir in the tomato paste, agave nectar, oregano, basil, garlic salt, bay leaves, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and pepper. Stir in the meat mixture and cover.

Cook on high for 5-6 hours, or low for 10-12 hours, stirring caramelized sides back into the sauce. When complete, stir well, fishing out the bay leaves, and add salt to taste. Serve on top of your favorite pasta.

Recipe source: inspired by The Cooking Photographer

Simple Goulash {aka American Chop Suey}

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Growing up, I always made goulash with an Italian flare because I did not understand what goulash was supposed to be.  (Obviously I was a self-taught cook–Mom and I did not get along well together in the kitchen so I did things my way!)  I equated pasta and tomatoes with Italian, so I added in Italian spices and used spaghetti sauce to coat the noodles. I have finally come to understand that goulash has Hungarian roots and although my latest concoction is more how most Americans make it, I can’t claim that it has any resemblance to the original dish it was named for. All I can say is that it’s fast, it’s delicious, and satisfying!

Simple Goulash

Printable recipe

Printable recipe with picture

1 cup whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 1/2 lbs 97% lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 (14.5 oz) cans stewed tomatoes
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 teaspoon paprika (Hungarian if you have it!)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
fresh cracked pepper

Boil macaroni until al dente. Meanwhile, cook hamburger along with onion and green pepper in skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through; drain. Add in remaining ingredients, stirring until the tomato paste is dissolved, and stir in macaroni. Serve hot.

Makes 8 servings: 271 cal; 6.8 g fat; 32.3 carb; 5 g fiber; 23.8 g protein

Recipe source: adapted from my friend, Sandy S.

30 Minute Meal: Easy Parmesan Garlic Chicken with Roasted Garlic Couscous & Zucchini

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I do realize it’s sort of ridiculous to be turning on the oven when it’s practically hot enough to bake something on the sidewalk, but I figure I can’t be the only person crazy enough to do it, so I wanted to share this super-easy recipe with the other zany people out there that throw common sense to the wind. 

This is a true 30-minute meal.  It looks & sounds like you put some time and effort into it, but thanks to a few convenience products & very few ingredients, everything comes together in a snap and you are rewarded with some amazing deliciousness.  The chicken is so juicy and flavorful–it will knock your socks off.  And while the method of preparation may be a bit foolhardy, it is a light meal that is absolutely perfect for summer. 

I received two boxes of Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil Couscous from the Near East company and ended up using both of them with this exact meal, twice, because it was so easy and delicious! I am a big fan of their whole wheat couscous (I use it in Orange Couscous with Chicken and Colorful Couscous Salad with Chickpeas) and while my husband and I both liked this preseasoned version, I think you’d get better flavor by adding your own seasonings. However, this is perfect for a night when you need dinner on the table in a jiffy.

Easy Parmesan Garlic Chicken
Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

½ cup grated (not powdered) Parmesan cheese
1 envelope Italian salad dressing mix
½ teaspoon garlic powder
6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (about 2 lb.)

Preheat oven to 400. Mix cheese, salad dressing mix and garlic powder. Moisten chicken with water; coat with cheese mixture. Place in shallow baking dish that has been lined with foil and coated with cooking spray. Bake 20-25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through (170 degrees). If your chicken is not as golden as you like, you can broil it for a few minutes after it’s done cooking.

Serves 6

Roasted Garlic & Red Pepper Couscous
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Printable recipe with picture

1 box (5.8 oz) Near East Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil Couscous
1 1/4 cups water
1/4-1/3 cup chopped red pepper

Bring water & contents of spice pack inside the couscous box to a boil. Stir in the couscous & red pepper and remove from heat. Cover and let stand five minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve hot.  You could also add the red pepper after the couscous is done so that it would be more bright and crunchy, which I think would be better but didn’t think to do that until after we’d eaten it, of course.

Garlic Oven Roasted Zucchini
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Printable recipe with picture

1-2 medium or large zucchini
olive oil
garlic salt

Wash and dry your zucchini, then slice into 1/4″ rounds. Slice rounds in half and put into a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and stir until all pieces are coated. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread the zucchini out on it. Sprinkle with garlic salt and put in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. I stuck mine in on the top rack when there was 15 minutes cooking time left on the chicken so they’d be done at the same time.

*I received free Near East product in conjunction with this blog post.  Near East did not influence my opinions expressed here as a result.

Spicy Asian Noodles with Chicken

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I found this recipe over at Kalyn’s Kitchen, where she posts South Beach Diet-friendly recipes.  I’m not on the South Beach Diet, but I am trying to eat healthier and this one really appealed to me.  The only change I made was to add a bit of honey to offset the sour vinegar, which was overpowering without it.  Now I’m completely in love and hooked.  I’ve made it twice in as many weeks!

 Spicy Asian Noodles with Chicken
Printable Recipe

8 oz. whole wheat spaghetti (1/2 package)
salt for pasta water, about 2 tsp.
1 cup diced cooked chicken
1 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

3 T rice vinegar
2 1/2 T soy sauce
2 T vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 T chili garlic paste (I prefer to use 2 T but adjust to your tastes)
1 T grated fresh ginger root
1 T sesame oil
1 T honey

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt, then break spaghetti noodles in half and add to water. Stir, let it come to a boil again, then cook until noodles are tender but still have a little bite, about 8-9 minutes.

While pasta water is coming to a boil, grate enough fresh ginger to make 1 T, then combine with rice vinegar, soy sauce, vegetable oil, chili garlic paste (or sriracha), sesame oil, and honey.

While the noodles are cooking, chop the chicken into same-size pieces about 1/2 inch square, and slice green onions. Wash cilantro, spin dry or dry with paper towels, and chop enough to make 1/2 cup.

When noodles are cooked but still al dente, drain them into a colander placed in the sink. Put noodles back into pan you cooked them in and add the diced chicken. Pour sauce mixture over chicken and noodles, then toss well enough that noodles and chicken are well-coated with the sauce mixture.

Add chopped green onions and chopped cilantro and toss just enough to combine. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Nutritional Information (per serving): 328 calories; 13 g fat; 48 g carb; 7 g fiber; 13 g protein

Recipe source: very slightly modified from Kalyn’s Kitchen

Shrimp & Scallop Scampi with Linguine

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My friend, Suzie, shared this recipe with me, which she got from The Quarterdeck restaurant in Cape Cod, MA via The Food Network.  That’s a lot of vias, but I’m glad it made its way to my kitchen!  It is a delicious meal, and you really will feel like you’re eating at a fine restaurant when you dig in!


Shrimp and Scallop Scampi with Linguine
Printable recipe
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Kosher salt
1 pound linguine
12 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
12 large sea scallops, tough foot muscles removed
Freshly ground pepper
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for garnish
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup torn fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the linguine and cook as the label directs.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the shrimp and scallops dry, then season with salt and pepper. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons butter to the pan and cook the shrimp until golden on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn the shrimp and add half of the garlic; cook until the garlic is fragrant but the shrimp are still translucent, 1 to 2 more minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a plate.

Add the scallops to the skillet and cook until golden on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn the scallops, add the remaining garlic and cook 1 to 2 more minutes. Add the lemon juice and wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Cook until the sauce is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Return the shrimp to the pan, then add the basil and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter; season with salt and pepper.

Drain the pasta and transfer to a large serving bowl. Toss with the shrimp, scallops and sauce; garnish with parsley and lemon.

Veronica’s Notes: If you buy frozen scallops, you will not have to remove any foot muscles–they are ready to cook.  I used a pound of regular sized shrimp in place of the jumbo, chicken broth in place of the wine, 1 1/2 T dried basil in place of the fresh and served with roasted asparagus on the side.

Recipe Source: The Food Network


Lasagna & Garlic Bread

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Both these recipes come from my favorite food blog, My Kitchen Cafe, and are the best lasagna and garlic bread I’ve ever made.  We ate huge pieces of the lasagna and couldn’t stop going back for more of this amazing garlic bread until only 1/4 of the loaf remained.  5 cloves of fresh garlic cooked in butter for 7 minutes, then stirred into softened butter makes an amazing spread.  This dinner was delicious, hearty & satisfying. Serve it with a green salad and you’ve got a wonderful meal.

Mom’s Lasagna
recipe adapted from My Kitchen Cafe

1 package oven-ready lasagna noodles
1 to 1 ½ pounds ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (undrained)
2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar
3 cloves minced garlic
2 ½ teaspoons dried basil
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 container (15 ounce) ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
¾ cup grated parmesan cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Cook ground beef and onion, drain. Stir in tomatoes (undrained), tomato paste, sugar, garlic, basil, and pepper.  Simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally (this is actually so thick that it doesn’t exactly simmer. I just left it on low heat and stirred it once in a while). In a small bowl blend ricotta, egg, parsley, parmesan cheese and ½ teaspoon salt. Put a layer of noodles in a 9 X 13 pan that has been sprayed with cooking oil, a layer of meat sauce, layer of ricotta mixture and a layer of the cheese then repeat all the layers twice more. Cover with foil. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. Uncover, bake 10 minutes more. (I cooked mine 30 minutes foil on & 20 minutes without the foil, that’s why the cheese got all dry-looking.) Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

*Freezable Meal: Prepare recipe right up until the baking step and then cover with a double layer of aluminum foil. Freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. To bake, increase baking time to about 40 minutes covered and 20 minutes uncovered. If baking from frozen, bake covered for 1 hour and 30 minutes, uncover and bake 30 minutes longer.

Garlic Bread
adapted from Melanie’s Cheesy Garlic Bread

5 garlic cloves, finely minced (click here for a tutorial on working with fresh garlic)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon water
1/4 teaspoon salt (1/2 tsp if you’re using unsalted butter)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 18-20-inch baguette or loaf of french bread, sliced in half horizontally

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400.

In a small nonstick skillet, cook the garlic, 1 tablespoon of the butter and water over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is straw colored, 7-10 minutes. It is important to keep the heat low or the garlic will burn and turn bitter. The garlic should be lightly browned but not burned!

In a small bowl, place the remaining 7 tablespoons softened butter and the salt and pepper. Mix in the hot garlic mixture and stir to combine. Using a rubber spatula, spread the butter mixture on the cut sides of bread. Sandwich the bread back together and wrap the loaf in foil. Place the wrapped loaf on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.    Cut into angled pieces and serve hot. Please try to exert self-control and share the bounty with others at the table.

Baked Pasta with Spinach & Sausage

So much for meatless Mondays!  I was so excited about trying this recipe that I totally forgot that Monday is supposed to be our meatless day.  I wonder how hard it will be to convince Dennis that this means two meatless days next week to make up for it?

We both really enjoyed this and it’s fairly simple.  I liked it so much, in fact, I’m thinking about trying it with mushrooms in place of the meat next Monday!

Baked Pasta with Chicken Sausage

from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pound rigatoni (I used whole wheat rotini)
10 ounces frozen baby spinach, thawed and drained well (I used a pound)
12 ounces precooked smoked chicken (or turkey) sausage, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick (I used 3 links of spicy Italian sausage, cooked on the grill)
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, 4 ounces cut into 1/2-inch cubes and 4 ounces shredded
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic. Cook for another minute.

Stir in tomatoes, oregano and basil; simmer for 8-10 minutes. Add cream; cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook pasta in the boiling water until al dente, according to package instructions. (If using fresh spinach, add it to the pot of boiling pasta right at the end and cook until wilted.) Drain, and return contents to pot.

Add tomato sauce, sausage, spinach and cubed mozzarella to the pot; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Scoop pasta into lightly greased 9X13-inch pan (or divide evenly between two 8X8-inch pans). Top with grated mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake until browned and edges are crisp, 20 to 30 minutes.

*Freezable Meal: Prepare recipe right up until the baking step and then cover with a double layer of aluminum foil. Freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. To bake, increase baking time to 1 to 1 1/4 hours. If baking from frozen, bake covered for 1 hour and 15 minutes, uncover and bake 30 minutes longer. Makes a heaping full 9X13 pan.

Squash, Sage & Ricotta Manicotti

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I’m a big fan of sweet and savory combos, and the squash here is just sweet enough to perfectly balance the onion, sage & cheeses.  This the best thing I’ve eaten in a while and although my husband hates all squash, particularly butternut, he ate his plate without complaint!  Success.

Squash, Sage & Ricotta Manicotti
Adapted from Everyday Food November 2009, “Squash, Sage & Ricotta Cannelloni”

3 T olive oil, plus more for baking dish and sheet
Salt & pepper
8 manicotti noodles
½ cup finely diced white onion
1 lb. cooked & mashed butternut squash
¼ c + 2 T parmesan
¼ c + 2 T milk
1 T chopped fresh sage leaves, plus 8-10 whole leaves
1/8 t ground nutmeg
2 c ricotta (15 oz)
¾ cup shredded mozzarella, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly oil a 2-quart or 8-inch square baking dish.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente.  Drain, rinse with cold water, drain again and transfer pasta to a lightly oiled rimmed baking sheet in a single layer.

In a small skillet, heat 1 T oil over medium.  Add onion, season with salt & pepper, and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and add the squash, ¼ c parmesan, 2 T milk, sage, and nutmeg; season with salt and pepper.  Stir the mixture until thoroughly combined.

Put filling into a gallon-size Ziploc bag and cut the corner.  Squirt the squash mixture into the manicotti tubes and place in prepared dish.

In a bowl, combine ricotta, ½ c mozzarella, ¼ c milk & 2 T parmesan.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir until combined.  Spread ricotta mixture over manicotti and top with ¼ c mozzarella.  Bake until warmed through, about 25 minutes.  Broil until top is browned, 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat 2 T oil over medium-high.  Fry whole sage leaves until crispy, 15-20 seconds.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve manicotti topped with fried sage.

*Veronica’s notes: the original recipe does not call for mozzarella, but for 1/2 c parmesan to be mixed with the ricotta and for another 1/4 cup to top the dish.  I think this would taste better but I ran out of parmesan and had to use mozzarella.  I will try it with the parm next time. Also, you can leave the parm out of the filling if you like, that was my addition and is prob not necessary if using it on top.

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